Seven countries. I’m 22 years old, and I’ve travelled to seven different countries in my lifetime. Some of you might think this is a small number. On the contrary, others might find that this means I live a life of privilege. I would agree with the latter group of people. Honestly, I find that I live a life of privilege because I have faith. Applying for a visa takes a leap of faith, after all.
Obviously, I’m a hundred percent Filipino. I adore rice. I love eating sweet spaghetti and lumpiang shanghai during birthdays. A videoke session? Count me in. It’s without a doubt that the Filipino blood is strong in me. But, I guess one more solid proof of my nationality is my passport. I own a Philippine passport. It’s brown, it’s pretty, and it ranks 62nd on the Passport Index. It’s not a very strong passport, but it has brought me to seven countries as of 2019. For that, I consider myself privileged.
The limits of a third-world passport
If you’re a Filipino traveller, you might find some of the points here relatable. I don’t know your story, but I’m sure that we share quite a number of struggles. We both hold a third-world passport that allows us to travel to 35 countries visa-free and 38 countries with visa-on-arrival. The other 125 countries require us to get a visa before travelling. And depending on your own experience, you may or may not agree that getting a visa requires a certain amount of luck.
Out of the seven countries I’ve visited, only two weren’t visa-free for Philippine passport holders. The first one was for Japan, where I went on a week-long trip as an exchange student. The second one was for a media trip to China. Neither trips allowed me the hassle of applying for a visa by myself. The travel agencies did all the work for me; I merely had to submit my forms and wait for my visas to arrive. It was only until recently that I had to get a visa on my own… and I’ve finally experienced how real the struggle can be.
I belong to a family of travellers. My father, in particular, has gone across every continent in the planet (excluding Antarctica, of course) for work purposes. My mother frequently joins him whenever she can. However, they have never brought my brother and me to a trip which required us to get visas.
Although I consider myself privileged in terms of opportunities, I still wouldn’t say that my family is well-off. Instead of putting our money into travel, we spend on daily necessities and Sunday dinners. We get to travel annually through my dad’s frequent flyer miles, and for that, we consider ourselves blessed.
But last month, something crazy happened. I was sitting by our home bar, sipping coffee beside my dad. Then, out of nowhere, he asked me if I wanted to join them on a trip to a country outside Southeast Asia. My first question was: Hindi ba kailangan ng visa roon? To this, my dad confidently answered: Oo. Edi kumuha ka.
Until now, I’m not sure where my dad got the gall to make such a statement. Most visa applications are not cheap. They also aren’t guaranteed. This made me very hesitant to say yes, but out of habit, I agreed to the trip, anyway.
Applying for a visa
While I was applying for a visa, I had no idea where I was going to get the money for my plane ticket. My parents and I agreed to pray hard about this trip and to trust that God will provide. On the day of my visa appointment, God answered our prayers through my most generous ninang. She offered to cover all my travel expenses!
While my parents and I were rejoicing, we were also panicking. I’d left our house at 8am for my 1pm appointment at the embassy. I expected to arrive at 10am, with three hours to spare. Lo and behold, EDSA decided to ruin my plans. At 12.30pm, I was still nowhere near the embassy.
Eventually, I arrived at the embassy 40 minutes late. But, the guard didn’t allow me to go in because I failed to bring a printed copy of my appointment. He told me to return the next day.
At this point, I was very stressed. Instead of lashing out on the guard, I reread the message my ninang sent me: Have faith. And so, I soldiered on. I knew then that God was able, as He was able to provide my travel expenses.
Fast forward to three weeks later, I finally received my visa. But, I had to go through so much just to get it. Definitely, this experience was crazy. I had to brave EDSA one more time. I had to suffer from the crowd at the MRT. At many points, I just wanted to give up. But I didn’t.
I consider myself privileged, especially with this experience. I’m privileged enough to have a supportive father to drive me to and from the embassy. To have a generous ninang who supports my love for travel. To even know why travelling is almost always worth the hassles of life. I even consider myself privileged because I only had to return to the embassy thrice. During this process, I encountered several travellers who have been going back and forth just to obtain a single visa.
Truly, applying for a visa with a third-world passport isn’t the easiest thing in the world. It’s daunting, especially for first-timers. I’m writing this article as a testament to Philippine passport holders: You’ll get your visa. It’s difficult, but you will. Just have faith and soldier on.
I’m also writing this article for frequent travellers. Maybe some of you have lost the spark in your eyes because you’ve become so used to travelling. Maybe some of you are even experiencing travel burnout. If so, why don’t you try to remember the first time you received an approved visa? Remember the excitement?
Most importantly, however, I’m writing this article for my future self. Since I’m praying that my life will continue to be filled with travel, I’m dreaming that someday I may look back at this experience with distant eyes. For Filipinos, applying for a visa takes a leap of faith. But once we get it, we also receive an overflow of gratefulness. And this is something I never want to forget.